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Friday, July 26, 2013

On Being an American

Love where you're from but bloom where you're planted.
Flophouse Motto 

Asking a migrant if she prefers her home country to her country of residence is a little like asking a child if she loves her father more than her mother.  It's an unfair question.  To the people urging us long-term Americans abroad to just go ahead and renounce already, they are taking that question one step farther and asking not only which one do you love more, but which one would you disavow if we made you choose?  

Now I'm a goofy old lady who firmly believes that love shared is not love halved.  I will never accept the premise that one can only love one country at a time and I reject any model that says that ideally we should all be serial monogamists (or that a person can't have two mothers/fathers).

I had an epiphany the other day.  I may have spent most of my adult life outside the U.S. but I was born and raised here in Seattle.  No one can take away the first 20 years or so of my life.  I am an American and will always be one even if I decide to forgo the pretty blue passport.  Cutting ties by relinquishing/renouncing will mean cutting my ties to a political community but here's the kicker:   America is so much more than that.  There is a nation beyond the government and perhaps it's time to start putting the people above the state.  Yes, if I renounce I would no longer be an American citizen, but I would still be an American by culture, blood, language, and inclination.  I am part of the collective memory of this country and no one on this planet (not  the US Congress or the President or the homelanders) can take that away from me. 

And they can't take it away from anyone else either.  To the Canadian/American reader who left a comment about how distressed she was about giving up her U.S. citizenship, I'd just like to say that as far as I'm concerned she's an American as long as she wants to be one with or without her U.S. passport.  So she won't be able to vote anymore in US elections.  Big deal.   It's not like American citizens themselves do that with any regularity. 

Thinking about it this way makes me much more serene about the whole business.  What do you think of this motto for those of us thinking about renouncing? "Forget the state and just be a child of the nation."  

Just a few thoughts coming out of my jet-lagged brain this morning.

Two Birds Tattoo was a bust.  They are booked until late August and at that time we'll be flying out to Quebec.  So today we are on a quest for another tattoo parlor and we plan to check out Slave to the Needle in Ballard some time today.  

Already got the Seattle punk haircut this afternoon... 


Blaze said...

Your strong roots are in Seattle and United States. Your trunk grows taller and your branches spread wider in France.

When do we see photo of punk hair and tattoo?

CarnetsdeSeattle said...

You know, I have to agree but in a different way. You have to let go some stuff. 2 weeks ago, I was looking at the pacific ocean. The old me was crying inside, because I could not go and play in the waves.

Be the new me knows that this disability does not define me. This has been taken away from me by cancer, but this is still me. Snowboarding has been taken away from me by cancer, but I am still me.

I guess it is the same with nationality. We define ourselves this way, but if you renounce... You are still you. And who cares what the haters that have never stepped out of their backyard say!

And I know that it is pprobably lot easier said than done, but...

Unknown said...

I couldn't agree more.

The US government has degraded and reduced the value of citizenship to that of taxes. To the US government, an American is somebody who pays taxes. If they don't pay taxes, then they are not American.

I renounced US citizenship in response to national origin discrimination caused by the US government, but I still have and will always have American heritage and ancestry.

Anonymous said...

Hope your visit to Seattle is going well.

I'm a third generation Ballardite who will likely never see my birthplace again, I certainly will miss not seeing the Olympic mountain range from Golden Gardens but staying a U.S. citizen wasn't something I could stomach any longer.

Being an American is like being part of an idea, it's not citizenship and the United States no longer represents that idea.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@blaze, I really love the cut. Shaved on three sides and a messy mop on the top. Requires gel to be spiky. Mom has agreed to do pictures after I do the color. Maybe I'll do something like this:

@Loic, I see what you mean. And letting other people, places and things hold the keys to part of your identity makes no sense. Whatever happens, yes, we are what we are AND what we aspire to be.

@Daniel, Good point and I think it's a weapon used against the homelanders as well with the very poor being treated even worse because, hey, they don't pay federal taxes.

@stateless, I think many homelanders would agree with that. The US government no longer embodies America.

I'm sitting in my Mom's kitchen looking out over the deck and I see the Olympic mountains in the distance and the lights of Ballard below. I hope and pray that you will be able to see it again.

Julia Gandrud (aka JuliaLikesFrogs) said...

Like so many people, I discovered how American I was the first time I lived abroad, and that year (in Japan, to which I will be forever grateful for good food and socializing forces -- I had been a savage before that) taught me just how much I love my country of origin.

In my own bias, I somewhere believe that most of us can only love and see clearly our homes after a separation...

Which is to say that I think temporary expatriation/migration should be mandatory.

bubblebustin said...

Looking forward to soon seeing the cut n tat! You only live once! Do you remember the old Clairol commercial with the slogan, "if I've only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde"?

Unknown said...

When I renounce I would no longer be an American citizen, but purely Canadian, like Glacier water from Iceland. Victoria and I are both from Seattle but Victoria is a better writer. My father worked for Boeing and I remember that billboard, "will the last person who leaves Seattle please turn off the lights". 1969 about. We almost moved to a godawful place near Detroit. Kermit (Vancouver BC).

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Julia, It certainly couldn't hurt. Canada is just next door, right? When were you in Japan? Hope you are feeling alright - you are in my prayers.

@bubblebustin, I'm thinking bright red with blond streaks. For the tat, I'd like a vine with flower on my lower leg. Decided against the nose ring. :-)

@P. Moore, For those born duals like my daughters we do our best to make them proud of both countries. That said, clearly one is almost always dominant. But that can change over a lifetime. Too soon to tell.

But I like the idea of separating the state from the nation. The former I could care less about - the latter is engraved in my heart.

@Kermit, I'm coming up to Vancouver on the 4-6 of August. Want to talk about it when I'm there?

Sally said...

Logic dictated that I renounce and I did. That FATCA was passed at all showed me that with Congress, it's at best "Out of sight, out of mind" if not "let's punish them for living outside the Homeland".

I'm happy where I am. Then why do I keep obsessing about this? I'm out in the clear, no longer have the unfortunate status "US Person"?

Because I, like you, can't erase or forget those first 20 years. They were formative. They set me on the trajectory that landed me where I am. I'm no longer that 20 year-old, leaving the US for a world of adventure, much has been added and modified since then. But that 20-year-old girl is still in the mix.

Hmm. Maybe someday there will be purple passports, mixture of blue and red. That would fit what's in my head.

Anonymous said...

Of course we're still American even if we give up citizenship. Ethnic American in the sense of cultural origins and its influence on our personal identities.

We have no problem thinking of our immigrant friends in the US as both Hungarian and American, or Chinese and American, for example, regardless of whether they have retained their original citizenship. We also are immigrants in our 2nd country, retaining the influence of our culture of origin (hopefully only the good parts!), even if we no longer have the paperwork and the allegiance.

Lately, with the FATCA / FBAR ruckus, Americans abroad have become visible (at least to the gov't) as a group 6 million strong. It's reduced being American (in the eyes of many) to a matter of filling out forms and paying dues. Like membership in a club.

But of course it's not that. The part that matters, the part that you feel, is the cultural part. You get to keep that.

Having 2 nationalities has shielded me from thinking of myself as an American immigrant here in France. I've had one foot in each citizenry for 13 years. A sort of privileged limbo. I like being French but I'll always feel American, too. Normale.


Anonymous said...

Having just renounced today this is a lovely post to read. I became a naturalised US citizen aged 10, and never really felt "American". After having moved back to the EU as a young adult and happily living here for decades I discoverd Fatca etc some months ago - that was the final impetus to say goodbye to the blue passport which I had kept all these decades (to make my father happy).Now I just have the nice wine-red EU passport :-)It is the right decision for me, perhaps similar to having been married but separated for many years, and finally divorcing (something I luckily have not experienced but the analogy springs to mind)The good things that typify the vast majority of American persons are not contingent being entitled to a blue passport. The years I spent in the US were formative and I plan to continue to honour the good experiences I had then, and not dwell on the negative.

calgary411 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
calgary411 said...

I fully realize and appreciate my roots of a very multi-cultural start to my life in Kingston, NY. I then experienced the next half of my US years in the Bremerton - Tacoma - Seattle area of WA. I have many, many good memories that are part of me.

As well as gratefulness for those early memories, I will always be grateful for what brought me to Canada and will always be grateful for what Canada has given me and that it is the country in which I raised my children, earned my living, contributed to my society - and paid my taxes for such (including the wonderful healthcare my family has received and the education for my son with special needs, which I know I would not have had in the US. I absolutely know that I would have been a welfare US mom rather than a working, contributing Canadian citizen).

My children do not have the "Made in the USA/Property Of" tattoo and their growing up memories are all Canadian, with very few visits to relatives in the US. My daughter did take advantage of better work opportunity for IT in Seattle than she (at the time) had in Vancouver, BC and laid claim to her US citizenship, in hindsight a mistake realized after a bad car accident and the costs that brought her over and above her very good US company health insurance.

As many others born in Canada and other countries abroad, my son was not registered with the US and never had ANY benefit from the US. His memories are all Canadian. Whose audacity says he cannot renounce his supposed extraneous US citizenship by virtue of his "mental incapacity" and further prevents a Parent, Guardian or Trustee from doing so, even with a court order? Why must he be a second-class Canadian citizen by virtue of his accidental-Americanism? Who but a slave-master tells him or me that his US citizenship is too precious a commodity to ever give up? That decision should not be made by someone who knows nothing of my son.

I'm sorry -- the bitter taste in my soul will not leave. There is no way I can justify what happens to my son and others like him, most of whom do not have the funds to in any way fight this or indeed the cost of IRS tax returns and FBAR reporting, for no benefit to anyone except those paid to help us comply with what, to me, makes no sense.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sally, More and more I'm thinking that we shouldn't need passport. I do some writing for a site called Open Borders and I think these folks are on to something.

@Moose And you should have the right to both. Have you read Amin Maalouf's book about Identity? Really good read. A few words about it here:

Identity is not something given or taken away by the government. And I love what he says about how having many identities just connects us to more people. I think it's one hell of an argument.

@bubblebustin, Bright red with blonde highlights?

@anonymous, I like that. Even in the midst of all this nonsense that you can honor and appreciate those formative years.

@Calgary, Knowing your situation I would be very angry too. What is happening to you is not just, not right. I think I feel about France the way you feel about Canada. I was born in the US but I BLOOMED in the Hexagon.